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CLASSIC COCKTAILS (article first published : 2004-09-25)

R99.95 seems a lot of money to pay for a book that is simply a collection of cocktail recipes but, as it deals with classics that have stood the test of time, I guess the value of Classic Cocktails is that it is aimed at those who want to produce classy drinks with a sophisticated touch.

The 80-page A5-sized book is written by David Biggs who was borned and raised in South Africa. He joined the reporting staff of a country newspaper in 1965 and discovered his affinity for wine after moving to Cape Town. The author of Make Your Own Cocktails, The Cocktail Handbook, Legendary Cocktails and Sharp Shooters, all published by New Holland, he has also published the annual Plonk Buyer’s Guide.

The design and layout of the book is beautiful and the photography is superb, with nice angles and subtle touches in terms of props. The whole process looks inviting and simple to achieve and the book itself would grace any bar let alone a coffee table.

As David Biggs maintains, “a cocktail will never become a classic unless it’s basically very good.” No amount of “dolly-ing up” with umbrellas, swizzle sticks, frosted sugar or pickled watermelon cubes (sounds weird!) will save a mediocre drink from obscurity.

His yardstick of a cocktail classic is that you should be able to order it by name in any part of the world and the bar staff should make it without hesitation the way you expect it to be. Even if you like your martini stirred, not shaken, à la James Bond!

David Biggs’ text is informative and amusing which is borne out by the chapter titles: The Brandy Bunch; Let the Gin Sing; It’s a Rum Thing; From Russia with Love; On the Rocks and Mix it Up. He includes the histories of some of the cocktails, like Ernest Hemingway’s version of a martini created in Harry’s Bar in Venice in World War II. Usually made from equal parts of gin and vermouth, Hemingway invented the Montgomery version of 15 parts gin to one part dry vermouth, scathingly stating that it represented the fact that Montgomery could only fight effectively when he had 15 men to every one of the enemy’s. That can’t have amused the legendary Field Marshall!

About Pink Gin, David Biggs reminds us that Sir Francis Chichester, the famous round-the-world sailor, claims that it was Pink Gins that kept him cheerful during his epic voyage. Malaria was a constant danger in far-flung outposts of the British Empire and the antidote, quinine, made a very nice drink with mixed with gin – giving birth to Gin and Tonic.

Whether it’s true or not, another fun story is the one behind a Harvey Wallbanger. A surfer named Harry was eliminated in a surfing championship in California. He was so incensed that he headed for a Manhattan Beach pub and drank a large quantity of vodka and Galliano. He then proceeded to bang his head against a wall, urging his friends to take him home and stop him from drinking.

Classic Cocktails would make a good Christmas gift for someone who prides himself in the making of cocktails. Particularly if the giver is invited around to sample the results!

Published by New Holland, ISBN 1 84330 7 10 3 – Caroline Smart.




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